Janelle Monae’s ‘Antebellum’ Fails its Overly Ambitious Premise

Sommerleigh Pollonais – Horror Head Writer

Antebellum is without a doubt, the most effed-up movie I’ve seen this year so far.

It’s one I went into without knowing anything about it. I hadn’t even watched the trailer, so as the movie unfolded and its secrets revealed I was caught completely off guard by the Shyamalan-esque story of a successful author trapped in a horrific, mind-bending tale of repression and racism.

Sh— just got real

For those who don’t know, an antebellum was an elegant mansion found on plantations in southern USA, specifically during the pre-Civil War era. It’s difficult to review this without spoiling things but here goes. Take M.Night Shyamalan’s The Village and Jordan Peele’s Get Out, put them in a blender and you might come out with something that looks like this movie.

Singer/actress Janelle Monáe (Hidden Figures, Moonlight) is captivating as always and manages to draw you in from the moment she first pops up on screen. Again, I can’t go into much detail without spoiling things, but I will say she shines in her roles even though not enough time or development is given to either character (or to any of the characters really) to give us the audience something deeper to connect to. Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) pops up as well, and she adds a much needed comedic energy to this very dark tale. Strangely enough, the scenes she’s in feel like they belong in an entirely different movie, something along the lines of a rom-com, but again, it’s not her fault, and more an issue with the writing.

GS INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: Hmph. Look at these heifers

There’s definitely a message here about systemic racism and the psychological damage that still exists in the descendants of slaves, not just in America but arguably in every society where those atrocious acts were committed. Directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz do a commendable job of imbuing this story with a sense of dread and unease the entire runtime, and it’s a movie that left me feeling icky and uncomfortable, which I think was the point.

Ambitious as this script was, the plot is wholly unbelievable, especially when you pass the 40-minute marker and realise what’s happening here. It speaks volumes that I was totally drawn into the plot of Get Out, which is just as implausible as Antebellum, but the former was still managed to be executed in a fashion that was grounded enough to make the fantasy seem real. On the positive side the visuals in Antebellum are stunning with their choices of colour palettes and locations, but moments that should’ve had dramatic weight (like a runaway slave being executed by soldiers) just feels exploitative, and the violence and personalities of our villains are too cartoonish, making it difficult to take the underlying message seriously.

ME: Red Queen is that you? RED QUEEN: You’re all going to die down he… ME: Yep, it’s you. Just checking

Antebellum gets points for ambition, tone and having the stones to make a horror movie out of a truly horrific period of history, but the heavy-handed nature of the fantastical elements dulls the weight of the message and in the end. I just kept thinking of films like Night of The Living Dead and Get Out that dealt with similar themes in a way that felt less, for want of a better word, implausible. And those movies had zombies and body swapping in them, so that’s saying a lot.

Sommer’s Score: 5.5 out of 10

For my thoughts on Get Out and nine of the other greatest horror movies of the previous decade you can click here. And for more overly ambitious film reviews you can like and follow Redmangoreviews on Facebook here. 

2755F829-2EEC-4A68-B6F7-F963F48C9D92 Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.

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